I know I’m not alone right now in feeling a little bit all over the place. Most of us are staying home, trying to protect our communities. Most of us are trying to find a new normal in all of this. A new routine, a new reason to get out of bed, a new coping mechanism.
I’ve noticed a little pattern emerging even as all the days have started blurring together. I’ll have one energetic day where I’m motivated, and I actually get things done, whether it’s chores or organising, or finally finishing that life admin thing I’ve been putting off, or even something creative like writing. Then I’ll have usually two days where I can’t focus. I start out with good intentions, maybe open up my laptop, get a little reading done. And then I spiral. And I struggle to pull myself out of the spiral.
I’m getting familiar with spirals now. After years of living with anxiety and depression, and grief, I know there will always be more spirals. I know I need to feel the feelings and let them go. But it’s the frequency of the spirals themselves, and getting out of them, that frustrates me now. I guess I thought that after what I’ve been through in the last few years, I’d be more resilient than I am. More spiral-resistant. And I hate that I’m not.
It’s humbling though, finding out you’re not as strong as you thought you were, and you still have lots to learn. And I know I do.
I also know I have nothing to complain about in the current situation. I am incredibly privileged. My partner and I are doing ok. He’s working from home, I’ve been furloughed for now, and can finally spend time on my writing projects and reading my huge TBR pile. So I know I need to cut the pity party and get off my ass, and get things done, because they’re things I’m passionate about that my full-time customer service job didn’t really allow me to, and now I have the time and zero excuses. I’m lucky, so so lucky, and I’m so grateful. And I want to look back in a month and be proud of what I did with this time, even though I also know I don’t need to be productive every single day, and can have bad days. It is a pandemic after all.
I can’t help but think of my dad during all of this too, and what he would think of it. He was always so rational, and saw through people’s bullshit. This month is 8 years since he died, and I can’t help but think how horrified he’d be by everything the US government is and has been doing. And yet, isn’t it doing what it was set up to do? Benefit the white and powerful and wealthy? It’s just all out in the open now.
But this global shutdown is the perfect time to reset everything, to find new ways to re-build our institutions and government. Will it actually happen? My cynical side wants to say no, because the white supremacist/capitalist/misogynist/homophobic/evangelical power systems our country was built on aren’t going to go away easily. Nicole said it more elegantly than I ever could, and I can only add my voice to all of her arguments, including that voting by mail (as all Americans living abroad—including active-duty military members!—do every election) actually works. Oh and save the Post Office!
Yet as much as the pandemic is (hopefully!) a once in a lifetime event, so too is this pause where we can try to stop the runaway capitalist train before it really ruins everything. I can’t believe people are already thinking of “going back to normal” or “opening up to save the economy”—you can’t have an economy when everyone’s dead. (And our old normal really only benefited the wealthy.) This first lockdown will last much longer, and we all need to get used to it, and successive waves of lockdowns as the other waves of the virus will hit. But isn’t this our chance—once we phase back into our jobs—to slowly phase into a staggered work week and work day? We now know people can work from home, so let more people work from home. If they have to come in on certain days, stagger them, and allow for flexible hours. This will reduce the huge and unsustainable crush on the transport system, especially at rush hour, which is just hellacious at the best of times. This will allow for people to have more flexibility with their families and ideally have more of a life/work balance. I mean…a girl can dream right?
I feel like if my dad was alive, he would have still tried to be a faithful reporter and publisher, trying to keep our small-town family newspaper from going under despite huge odds and even bigger losses. Local journalism is practically non-existent now, which is shaping the way news is shared. It’s going to be a completely different world once we get on the other side of this (in a few years’ time I’d guess), and I’m honestly afraid to see what it will be like. What will be left of the arts and cultural institutions, who were already fighting over scraps from the conservative governments in both the US and UK? What will happen to local community centers and programs, which again were already struggling? What will happen to education and school budgets, which they’re already cutting DURING the pandemic?? And what will happen to publishing and books? Will the old ways that books were made and sold, problematic as they were, even still exist? These are some of the thought spirals I go down, not to mention worrying about my loved ones here in London and back home. In classic INFJ form, I want to solve all of these problems but don’t know how.
Over the weeks I’ve been trying to read more, to get lost in books like I used to when I was younger. I’ve read some amazing ones, like CIRCE by Madeline Miller. This is a jewel of a book, so beautifully written and imagined, it makes me want to wander the whispering shores of a sun-drenched Greek island, with lemons and figs dripping from the trees and rosemary and jasmine blowing on the wind. (I was a teensy bit weirded out by the ending, I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve read it, let me know what you thought. I get it, I loved their connection, buuttttt…..)
I also enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s new histfic TIDELANDS, although a few times I found myself impatient with the repetitive details. Through most of it I was fascinated to read about Alinor’s everyday duties and seasonal routines, since Gregory writes so vividly, and it felt like I was there, sweating alongside Alinor. But by the 12th description of their morning gruel, it got a little repetitive…It also had a cliffhanger ending which I was not prepared for, both because A) I was reading it on my Kindle and suddenly it was over, and B) the whole book was a slow-burn with cleverly layered clues that all added up to a big climax—and then it was over in a very jarring way. There is clearly a sequel or more planned, but I didn’t know that going in. But hey, yay for more 17th-century historical fiction! I did love the intrigue surrounding Charles I’s last days, and seeing the disillusion his followers had with him. Anything that shows the grey areas of these positions that historically have always been portrayed as black-and-white I find really interesting, and try to include in my own work too.
I’ve also come across some articles that I just had to save. They’ve been bookmarked and on my phone browser for weeks so I could share them here, and hopefully preserve them in a small way. They either have beautiful, heart-breaking writing, or deliver some stark truths that we need today and everyday.
The Harvard Business Review (I know, right?) featured an article about the collective anticipatory grief we’re all experiencing, and I found it really helpful to articulate this feeling exactly.
The Atlantic has another article that talks about this chance to change our world, for the better.
This article by Paraic O’Donnell is so raw and real and heartbreaking. It certainly put things into perspective before the lockdown, and rings even more true now.
This is an important article about slavery. It’s high time we fixed how we teach American and British history and include the actual impacts of imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, and white supremacy on our world today, and where they all began.
And this is a brilliant call to action for all white writers and those in publishing to step aside and let people of color have the microphone.
Even as these days blend together in a weird routine of their own (time for breakfast, oh wow it’s already lunchtime, oh man what will we have for dinner? We’re basically hobbits…), I keep questioning existence in general. Our lives are lived just like this, one day at a time, hour after hour. Lives lived, families formed and lost, memories made, and lost. Tick tock. Now we’re all forced inward, literally and figuratively, and I’m finding myself even more confused about what I want to do, what I’m meant to do in this one life I have. I love writing, I love reading, I want to help people. Can I do these things in whatever world is left after all of this? Should I stop trying to pursue other careers? Maybe. I don’t know right now. No one knows. And that’s also something we’re all reckoning with right now. The complete loss of certainty—and yet we never really had that to begin with, did we? We just all convinced ourselves that some things were certain, and took them for granted. This tweet by Ashley C. Ford stopped me in my tracks, and sums up, well, everything.
I’m 30 now, and so many things I thought were rock solid, or certain, or a given, are nowhere near being that anymore, if they were at all. That idea of realising you’re an adult now, but you don’t know what you’re doing, and neither does anyone else, is comforting, but also incredibly scary. We grew up thinking our parents and grandparents knew everything, but their world of boomer comforts and guarantees is crumbling around them too. We’re all at a loss.
All I know right now is that I’m so lucky to have found my partner. As cliche as it is, he really is my rock through all of this. We’re both figuring life out together, and can be honest and open with each other through our struggles. And we can be silly and absurd with each other too. He bought a print for us to hang up in our flat, and I laugh every time I see it. We were inspired by a Simpsons episode to make one ourselves, but it turns out someone on the Internet had already created what we were looking for.
I also can’t help but think, as I always do, that the Earth itself is a little rocket house too, isn’t it? Hurtling through the endless dark. So while I don’t really believe in God, I hope this blessing reaches you too, no matter your beliefs or your fears. I think it would have made my dad smile too, and I’ll think of him when I see it, laughing his belly laugh, watching his favorite show with us.
I miss you dad.
Sending love and light to you and yours.